This month we celebrate the work of Wally Ogilvie, who has been a support worker for Alzheimer's Support for 20 years. After two decades of compassion, care and commitment, he shares here some of his experiences, memories and advice. 

What drove you to become a home support worker for people living with dementia? 

It was for personal reasons. My mother was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 1999. She was living in Newcastle so, I contacted a local charity up there for advice and information about dementia and they were enormously helpful. In 2003 I saw an advert for support workers by Alzheimer's Support and after helping with my mothers dementia for five years, I thought it would be good to help others in a similar situation. I was particularly interested in the one to one approach that support work offered via the home support service. 

What one thing do you wish more people knew about working with people living with dementia?

Wally receiving his 20 years of service certificateThat they're just like people living without dementia, we all get annoyed or irritated when someone tries to take over. Just be with the person, whatever it is they want. Don't over do it by trying too hard to do things for them that they can do for themselves and don't be afraid to let them attempt to do things. Offer help rather than step in and don't be afraid to stand back. Be patient and have a laugh, it's a two way exchange. I love music, and the people I have worked with have introduced me to some jazz and classical music, whilst I've shared folk and world music with them. We've swapped books, discussed art, travel, politics, science, just as I do with my other friends.

What is the most unexpected thing you have learned on the job?

That not everyone with Alzheimer's views it as frightening or fearful. I've met a number of people who cared not a jot that they couldn't remember things, almost seeing the need to remember as a burden they no longer had. And as such were cheerful, happy and enjoying living "in the moment". 

Can you give any examples of challenges you have faced in your role and how you overcame them?

When I first started, we visited a chap with fronto-temporal dementia, which meant he struggled with empathising with others and would frequently say inappropriate things. He would often still be in bed in the afternoon and took lots of coaxing and persuading to get dressed to go out, saying he didn't want to go out but would reluctantly agree. Yet he'd enjoy his tea, cake, and a drive, then on returning home would say how much he'd enjoyed it. After several months of this, I arrived and he was fully dressed and waiting to go out, complaining that I was five minutes late!

Can you share a memorable experience or highlight that has touched you?

silver vase made by WallyThere have been many highlights over the years, but two stand out. For several years I supported Declan, an 88-year-old professor of physiology, who had also spent 70 years as an amateur silversmith producing remarkably beautiful silverware. 

As I made stained glass windows, we immediately connected as craftsmen, and rather than me being his support worker I got him to teach me some silversmithing. With his help I made several silver items, such as a small vase, napkin ring, and cup, in sterling silver and as a result, I had to apply to the Assay office in London to get my own hallmark, so the items could be legally sold, with the proceeds going to Alzheimer's Support.

Then there was Gordon, who had spent his life as a Westbury policeman. Cancerous ulcers when in his sixties badly affected his speech. Using a tape recorder, he taught himself to speak again and he was probably one of the most talkative people I have ever met! Having been a postman, we couldn't go anywhere without him meeting someone he knew and he always had to stop and chat.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in home support?

You need to be easy going and have lots of patience. Be tolerant, don't judge, learn to go at someone else's pace, and be good humoured.

Everyone is unique, and everyone has lived an interesting life. Fundamentally, we all have things in common.